Even though cell walls have essential functions for bacteria, fungi, and plants, tools to investigate their dynamic structure in living cells have been missing. Here, it is shown that changes in the intensity of the plasma membrane dye FM4-64 in response to extracellular quenchers depend on the nano-scale porosity of cell walls. The correlation of quenching efficiency and cell wall porosity is supported by tests on various cell types, application of differently sized quenchers, and comparison of results with confocal, electron, and atomic force microscopy images. The quenching assay was used to investigate how changes in cell wall porosity affect the capability for extension growth in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Results suggest that increased porosity is not a precondition but a result of cell extension, thereby providing new insight on the mechanism plant organ growth. Furthermore, it was shown that higher cell wall porosity can facilitate the action of antifungal drugs in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, presumably by facilitating uptake.
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